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Signs You May Have An Ulcer

by James Hixon, M.D.

It’s the most stressful time of the year. Most of us are managing holiday chaos that includes tons of stress, eating rich foods, and drinking more alcohol. Most of us think that stress or spicy foods are the leading causes of ulcers.

What Is A Peptic Ulcer

Your stomach is coated with a thick layer of mucus. This mucus protects your stomach from foods and acids. There is a wonderful balance in your stomach between the acid and the mucus. When you begin to create more acid than mucus you get an imbalance that results in a painful, open sore developing on the lining of your stomach, small intestine and esophagus. This is a common disorder that affects five million people in the United States.

Symptoms You Have an Ulcer

You may feel burning pain from your breastbone to your navel. This pain can last from minutes to hours and may continue for a few days or weeks.  As the ulcer progresses you can experience nausea, pain, vomiting, and weight loss. Your vomit may be red or a dark, coffee ground color. You also can also have dark, tarry stools.

The Leading Cause of Ulcers is Not Stress

Helicobacter pylori. Most of us think that stress or spicy foods are the leading causes of ulcers. These can be causal in an ulcer but the leading cause of ulcers is a bacteria in your gut called Helicobacter pylori. Half of us have been infected with this common bacteria. This common bacteria infects 20 percent of people under thirty and about half of the people 60 years old. H. pylori spread from person to person and may be transmitted through water, food or close contact with others.

Medications. Some medications can lead to ulcers. Steroids and blood thinners eat away or burn the lining of your stomach. Many of us use too many over the counter pain relievers such as aspirin, naproxen, ibuprofen, and naproxen.

Alcohol and smoking. Smoking and drinking can increase your risk of ulcers and slow your healing if you have an ulcer.

Stress. Stress changes your immune system, acid secretion, and blood flow. All of these factors alter your upper digestive tract mucosal layer causing ulcers.

Treatment of Ulcers

Tests. Breath, blood, and stool tests can detect H. pylori.

Endoscopy. This procedure allows your physician to look at the lining of your stomach and obtain a tissue sample. This tissue sample is then tested for H. pylori and to make sure the area is not cancerous.

Medication. Antibiotics are the treatment to kill the H. pylori bacteria. Medicines are needed to neutralize the acid and to reduce the acid level in your stomach.

Integrative Medicine. Engaging in mindfulness practices and stress reduction will help reduce your stress. Learning and practicing meditation, yoga, guided imagery will reduce your stress and help you become stress resilient.




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